Archive for March, 2010
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic, inflammatory autoimmune disorder, which occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs (the disease may affect the skin, joints, kidneys, and other organs). Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different body systems, including your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, heart and lungs. Symptoms vary from person to person, and may come and go. The condition may affect one organ or body system at first. Others may become involved later. Almost all people with SLE have joint pain and most develop arthritis. Frequently affected joints are the fingers, hands, wrists, and knees. The signs and symptoms of lupus include the following:
General discomfort, uneasiness or ill feeling (malaise);
Joint pain and swelling;
Nausea and vomiting;
Pleurisy (causes chest pain);
Sensitivity to sunlight;
Skin rash — a “butterfly” rash over the cheeks and bridge of the nose affects about half of those with SLE. The rash gets worse when in sunlight. The rash may also be widespread; and
There is no one test to diagnose lupus, and it may take months or years to make the diagnosis. There is no cure for lupus, but medicines and lifestyle changes can help control it. While anyone can get lupus, women are at a much greater risk. Lupus is also more common in African American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American women. The exact cause of the disease remains unknown.
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On March 24, 2010, only a week before the start of the Jewish holiday Passover, the Chief Rabbinate in Israel has issued a dire warning to its citizens: be on the lookout for pirate matzah. Israeli police had raided a warehouse containing a 7-ton stockpile of matzah with fake kosher certificates, and feared that this could represent a fraction of the pirated matzah on the market. The rabbinate has tried to ease the public’s anxieties by publishing color photos of the fake matzah packages and by ordering local rabbis to post the statement in synagogues and other prominent places to warn Orthodox Jews to avoid the faked product. The unleavened bread is a main feature of the eight-day Passover holiday, which is celebrated each year in the early spring, beginning on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan. It commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt (which is described in the book of Exodus).
The Cliff Notes version of this epic saga is as follows: After enduring many decades of backbreaking slavery at the hands of the Egyptians, God sent the prophet Moses to Egypt to free his chosen people. God instructed Moses to deliver the following crystal clear warning to the Pharaoh, “Send forth my people, so that they may serve Me!” Suffice it to say, the Pharaoh scoffed at Moses’ many entreaties and refused to free the Israelites. God then unleashed upon Egypt ten devastating plagues, afflicting them and destroying everything from their livestock to their crops.
Finally, at the stroke of midnight of Nissan 15 of the Hebrew year 2448 (roughly 1313 B.C.), God unleashed the last and most horrible of the ten plagues on the Egyptians; the death of all of their firstborn sons. God of course “passed over” the homes of the Israelites- hence the name of the holiday. Brought to his knees by the ravages that the ten plagues had wrought on his kingdom, Pharaoh finally relented and practically chased all of his Jewish slaves out of Egypt. In fact, they fled Egypt in such a hurry that the bread they had baked in preparation for their trek did not have time to rise before their departure for Mount Sinai and their birth as God’s chosen people.
The highlight of Passover is the two “Seders,” observed on the first two nights of the holiday. The Seder is a fifteen step tradition that is directly tied to the special food that is prepared to relive and experience the freedom that their ancestors gained that night. Thus, the Jewish Passover Seder includes the following rituals: eating matzah (a type of extremely bland unleavened cracker that must be made from kosher flour); bitter herbs (to symbolize the bitter slavery endured by the Israelites); and the drinking of four cups of wine or grape juice (to help wash down the bone-dry matzah and of course in celebration of “newfound freedom”). Dinner is accompanied by the recitation of the Haggadah, a liturgy that describes in detail the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
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“In the heyday of the psychometric and behaviorist eras, it was generally believed that intelligence was a single entity that was inherited; and that human beings – initially a blank slate – could be trained to learn anything, provided that it was presented in an appropriate way. Nowadays an increasing number of researchers believe precisely the opposite; that there exists a multitude of intelligences, quite independent of each other; that each intelligence has its own strengths and constraints; that the mind is far from unencumbered at birth; and that it is unexpectedly difficult to teach things that go against early ‘naive’ theories of that challenge the natural lines of force within an intelligence and its matching domains.” Howard Earl Gardner’s, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences.
The theory of Multiple Intelligences was proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983 to more accurately define the concept of intelligence and to address the question whether methods which claim to measure intelligence (or aspects thereof) are truly scientific. The theory of Multiple Intelligences maintains that there are many different types of “intelligences” ascribed to human beings. In response to the question of whether or not measures of intelligence are scientific, Gardner suggests that each individual manifests varying levels of different intelligences, and thus each person has refined in subsequent years. It suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited. Instead, Dr. Gardner proposes eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults. These intelligences are:
Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”);
Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”);
Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”);
Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”);
Musical intelligence (“music smart”);
Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”);
Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”); and
Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”).
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On Palm Sunday Christians celebrate the Triumphal Entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, the week before his death and resurrection. For many Christian churches, Palm Sunday, often referred to as “Passion Sunday,” marks the beginning of Holy Week, which concludes on Easter Sunday. According to the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, crowds of his followers greeted him with waving palm branches, and by covering his path with palm branches. Immediately following this great time of celebration in the ministry of Jesus, he begins his journey to the cross.
In remembrance of this event, we celebrate Palm Sunday. It is referred to as Palm Sunday because of the palm branches that were laid on the road as Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem. Palm Sunday was the fulfillment of the Prophet Daniel’s “seventy sevens” prophecy: ” Know therefore and understand, That from the going forth of the command To restore and build Jerusalem Until Messiah the Prince, There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; The street shall be built again, and the wall, Even in troublesome times” (Daniel 9:25). John 1:11 tells us, “He (Jesus) came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” The same crowds that were crying out “Hosanna” were crying out “crucify Him” five days later (Matthew 27:22-23).
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On March 28, 1941, English novelist, essayist, diarist, epistler, publisher and pioneering feminist Virginia Woolf donned her overcoat, filled its pockets with stones and then walked into the River Ouse, near her home in Sussex, and committed suicide by drowning herself. Her body was not found until weeks later, and her husband buried her cremated remains under an elm tree in the garden of the home that they had shared together. She had left two similar suicide notes, one possibly written a few days earlier before an unsuccessful attempt. The one addressed to her husband Leonard read in part;
“I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.”
Ever since her tragic suicide, literary sleuths have wondered why one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the 20th century decided to take her own life. Woolf had been plagued by periodic mood swings and intermittent bouts of depression since the sudden death of her mother when she was only 13 years old. When her beloved half-sister Stella passed away only two years later, Woolf suffered her first of several nervous breakdowns, the most severe of which occurred after the death of her father in 1904, which was so severe that she had to be briefly institutionalized. It has also been suggested that her mental illness was also influenced by the sexual abuse she and Vanessa were subjected to by their half-brothers George and Gerald Duckworth (which Woolf recalls in her autobiographical essays A Sketch of the Past and 22 Hyde Park Gate). Other biographers have suggested that her wild mood swings were the result of untreated bipolar disorder. Despite the fact that Woolf’s mental illness took its toll on her social life, her literary output remained relatively constant until her suicide.
Regardless of what factor finally drove Woolf to take her own life, her prolific output of diaries, letters, critical reviews, essays, short stories, and novels have continued to be the source of much contemporary scholarly study. Her most famous works include the classic novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928), and the book-length essay A Room of One’s Own (1929), with its famous dictum, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
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Death by burning has a long and storied history in the grisly annals of capital punishment. The undisputed execution method du jour for the crimes of treason, heresy and witchcraft before the practice fell out of favor in the late 18th century death by burning is now considered cruel and unusual punishment in the Western world. According to ancient records, many an early Christian martyr met their maker thanks to the Roman practice of punishing the newly-minted followers of Christ by burning them alive. Luckily for Christians, the tables had turned in their favor by 1184, when the Synod of Verona (Catholic church council) legislated that burning was to be the official punishment for heresy. This decree was later reaffirmed by the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215, the Synod of Toulouse in 1229, and numerous spiritual and secular leaders up through the 17th century.
Execution by burning surged in popularity during the 14th and 15th centuries, as witch trials became all the rage in Scotland, Spain, England, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. It is estimated that up to four million convicted “witches” and heretics were burned at the stake during this time. Called The auto de fé, the popular ritual involved a Catholic Mass; prayer; a public procession of those found guilty; and a reading of their sentences which took place in public squares or esplanades and lasted several hours with ecclesiastical and civil authorities in attendance. After this lengthy service, the patience of the attending audience was well rewarded when the condemned were bound to a large stakes and roasted to death. According to experts on such things, death comes from the carbon monoxide poisoning before the flames engulf the body if the fire is relatively large (for instance, when a large number of heretics were executed at the same time). However, if the fire is small, the convict burns slowly and dies in great pain.
The Catholic saint Joan of Arc is probably the most famous historical figure to be put to death by burning. Claiming divine guidance, this nineteen year old peasant girl led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years’ War. Moreover, she was indirectly responsible for the coronation of Charles VII. Eventually captured by the Burgundians and sold to the English, Joan was tried by an ecclesiastical court which found her guilty of heresy and condemned her to death by burning. Tied to a tall pillar in the Vieux-Marche in Rouen, she asked two of the clergy, Fr Martin Ladvenu and Fr Isambart de la Pierre, to hold a crucifix before her (to give her something to look at while she died). After she died, the English allegedly raked back the coals to expose her charred body so that no one could claim she had escaped alive, and then burned her body twice more in a literal example of the word “overkill”. Her executioner, Geoffrey Therage, admitted later that he “…greatly feared to be damned.”
On the initiative of Charles VII Twenty-four years later, Pope Callixtus III reviewed the decision of the ecclesiastical court and found Joan innocent of all charges and declared her a Catholic martyr too boot. She was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920. She is, along with St. Denis, St. Martin of Tours, St. Louis IX, and St. Theresa of Lisieux, an official patron saint of France.
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“Every era gets the superhero it deserves.” -Manohla Dargis, The New York Times’
An enduring American cultural icon, Superman is a comic book superhero created by American writer Jerry Siegel and Canadian-born artist Joe Shuster in 1932. Superman was introduced to the American public in 1938, and his popularity subsequently landed the caped crusader into countless radio serials, television programs, films, newspaper strips, and video games. The success of the Superman comic book franchise is credited with helping to launch the entire superhero genre, and its primacy within the American comic book genre went undisputed for decades. However, the rise of edgier “antihero” superhero franchises (such as Batman) has eroded Superman’s popularity amongst contemporary comic book fans, as evidenced by the disappointing box office returns of Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns (2006). It seems that the wholesome reputation of the “big blue boy scout” does not resonate with modern audiences who crave psychological complexity and moral ambiguity from their superheroes.
While the Superman of recent history is portrayed as squeaky clean and unfailingly idealistic, the original Siegel and Shuster stories present his personality as rough-around-the-edges and aggressive. He attacked and terrorized wife beaters, profiteers, lynch mobs and gangsters, and enthusiastically embraced vigilante justice. This Superman came to an end late in 1940, when new editor Whitney Ellsworth instituted a code of conduct for his characters to follow, banning him from ever killing. This change would even be reflected in the stories themselves, in which it would occasionally be pointed out in the narrative or dialogue that Superman had vowed never to take human life—and that if he ever did so, he would hang up his cape and retire.
Because of the enduring popularity of the franchise, Superman has been the subject of an impressive body of pop cultural criticism. Many critics believe that his persona has evolved to reflect the changing mood and concerns of the nation. Thus, Superman’s crusade against organized crime in the 1930s can be seen as a reflection of a nation living under the tyranny of gangsters, and his exploration of new technological threats from the 1950s-1980s mirror a nation living under the shadow of the Cold War.
So what are we to make of Superman’s recent demotion? He seems to have had a bit of an identity crisis since the end of the Cold War in the 1980s. The world is no longer ruled by two hegemonic military powers, and the internet has ushered in a geo-political era characterized by diversification and fragmentation. Thus, the black and white dichotomy between Clark Kent and his alter ego no longer resonates in a nation where ambiguity has become king. However, one should not be too quick in relegating Superman to the dustbin of history; the down-home clean-cut boy in the blue tights and red cape might just make a comeback yet….
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